Super scope gets funding boost

Artist's impression of the Giant Magellan Telescope

Artist's impression of the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT). Three countries have signed up to take part, including Australia. The GMT will search for planets around other stars, and look into the distant cosmos towards the beginning of time.

  • Huge 24.5m optical system
  • Images 10 times sharper than Hubble
  • Australia is one of the partners

Construction of a giant telescope that will take pictures 10 times sharper than Hubble, has moved a step closer with a new funding announcement.

The Carnegie Institution for Science has enthusiastically endorsed the construction of the proposed Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT). The GMT will be the first in the next generation of astronomical observatories that will drive new scientific discoveries.

The Carnegie board authorised the commitment of US$59.2 million for the design, construction, and commissioning of the telescope to supplement the US$19.9 million that Carnegie has already committed to the project.

At this time more that 40% of the total funding required to construct the GMT has been committed by the Founding Institutions. It’s hoped that the other partners in the project will soon commit the remainder of the funds that will allow the telescope to be brought into service.

The GMT will be built at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, and will be operated by a consortium of institutions from the United States, South Korea, and Australia.

Australia’s share in the GMT is held by the Australian National University and Astronomy Australia Ltd, a national body whose ” core business is to manage programmes which provide astronomers with access to … optical/infrared and radio astronomy infrastructure.” Australia has committed AU$88 million as its full allocation of the total cost of the project, giving it a 10% share in the telescope.

Artist's impression of the Giant Magellan Telescope

The GMT's seven mirrors will give the same effect as one mirror 24.5 metres wide.

10 times better than Hubble

Larger and more powerful than any previous optical telescope, the GMT will have ten times the light-gathering power of current ground-based telescopes, and will produce images 10 times sharper than those from the Hubble Space Telescope.

The GMT will use the latest in Adaptive Optics technology to remove blurring caused by the Earth’s atmosphere to produce images with unprecedented sensitivity and clarity.

The novel design of the GMT will combine seven 8.4-metre primary mirror segments resulting in an equivalent 24.5-metre telescope. The first so-called off-axis mirror, under development at the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona, will be completed by the end of the year.

The GMT is poised to address some of the most fundamental and outstanding questions in astronomy: the nature of the mysterious dark matter and dark energy, the origin of the first stars and first galaxies, and how stars, galaxies and black holes evolve over time. One of the particular strengths of the GMT will be its ability to image planets around nearby stars and to search for signs of life in their atmospheres.

In the United States the participating institutions are the Carnegie Institution for Science, Harvard University, the Smithsonian Institution, Texas A&M University, the University of Arizona, and the University of Texas at Austin.

The two Australian members of the Founders group are the Australian National University and Astronomy Australia Limited.

The South Korean government approved participation in the GMT project, with the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute as the representative of the Korean astronomical community.

Both Australia and Korea have funded their 10% shares.

Adapted from information issued by Carnegie Institution for Science / GMT.

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